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March 12th, 2014:

Oh yeah, that other election

We’ve had the primary, and we’ll have the runoff in late May. In between, there’s the special election in SD04 to replace Tommy Williams.

Tommy Williams

Overshadowed by a heated primary season, a special election will be held on May 10 in Harris and four surrounding counties to determine the next state senator from District 4, a Republican stronghold that spans Jefferson and Chambers counties and portions of Harris, Montgomery and Galveston counties. Early voting begins April 28 and ends May 6.

The four candidates on the ballot, all Republican, are: Former District 4 Sen. Michael Galloway, a businessman who served one term from 1994 to 1998; two Montgomery County state representatives – freshman tea party favorite Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, and Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, chairman of the House Republican caucus; and businessman Gordy Bunch, who serves as treasurer on The Woodlands Township board and as chairman of The Woodlands Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Willliams, R-The Woodlands, left the upper chamber last October after a decade in office to serve as the vice chancellor of federal and state relations for the Texas A&M University System.


With four credible candidates, University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said “a runoff is pretty much in the cards.”

A summertime election, guaranteed to have extremely low turnout, will benefit the candidate who voters believe is the most conservative, Rottinghaus said, an advantage he gives to Toth. The tea party favorite is known for unseating 10-year incumbent Republican Rob Eissler in 2012.

Although Creighton has a larger war chest and more experience in office, having won three House terms, Rottinghaus said some anti-establishment voters may be turned off by his caucus leadership position. That is because they may link him to House Speaker Joe Straus, who handily won his party nomination March 4 but frequently has to defend himself against charges he is too moderate.

Toth is seen as “kind of more an insurgent and, perhaps, more conservative than Creighton,” Rottinghaus said. “We are splitting hairs here, though, because I think they’re both probably equally conservative.”

[Rice PoliSci professor Mark] Jones, who has analyzed Toth’s and Creighton’s voting histories from the 2013 legislative session, said the two fell side-by-side on his ranking, which placed both of them solidly among the two dozen most conservative Republicans in the House.

While describing the race as “evenly matched” between the two men, who voluntarily resigned their House seats after entering the race, Jones gives the advantage to Creighton because of his money, more than $1 million, and experience.

Here are the January finance reports for each candidate:

Toth – $123K on hand
Creighton – $1 million on hand
Galloway – Less than $1K on hand
Bunch – $274K on hand, including $250K loan

They will have to file 30 day and 8 day reports as well.

As far as the race itself goes, it’s a measure of how degraded Republican politics have become that a person like me finds himself mourning the loss of a guy like Tommy Williams. Williams used to occupy a comfortable space on the right-hand end of the conservative spectrum, but his performance as Senate Finance Committee Chair showed him to be generally sane. When one considers that the top candidates to replace him are the secession sympathizer Creighton and the troglodyte Toth, one begins to see the appeal. Given that I know nothing about Galloway and Bunch, I’d probably have a slight preference for Creighton as the marginally less offensive alternative, but honestly it’s like being asked to pick my favorite Kardashian. Any way you look at it, you lose. I hope to live long enough to see the day when elections between Republicans can be about issues and solutions and not just a grunting contest among trolls, but that day isn’t here yet.

Enough with analyzing Democratic primary turnout already

Seriously, enough of this.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Republicans saw a turnout of 11.4 percent of registered voters, or 1.5 million people, in 2010 when their primary featured the long-awaited clash between Gov. Rick Perry and then-U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. The GOP primary for governor this year saw 9.8 percent turnout, or more than 1.3 million voters.

Democratic turnout was 5.2 percent, or 680,548 voters in 2010 when White, the former Houston mayor, faced a primary field of little-known opponents marked chiefly by hair-care magnate Farouk Shami’s willingness to shell out money to challenge him. This year, with Davis on the ballot after getting national attention last year for her filibuster against tighter abortion restrictions, it was 3.7 percent, under 550,000 voters, in the governor’s race.

“It definitely looks bad” for Democrats, said Mark P. Jones, Rice University political scientist. “There also wasn’t very much going on in 2010, yet more people voted in 2010 than voted in 2014. … Instead of moving towards turning Texas blue, they are moving back towards Texas as an even redder state.”


Jeff Rotkoff, adviser to Democratic megadonors Steve and Amber Mostyn of Houston, said Battleground Texas was never intended to turn out Democrats in a largely uncompetitive primary election. It’s designed to expand the electorate, he said.

“It’s like saying, ‘I bought this Ferrari, and I tried to take it off-road and I got stuck. It’s a terrible car,’ ” he said. “We’ll know on Nov. 5 whether it’s been successful or not.”

Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak said it would have been wise for Democrats to take the car for a primary spin.

“That’s just incompetence, if you’re not trying. Even broader than that, we know they were trying,” he said, citing Davis’ visits to South Texas. “They missed a huge opportunity to turn out a lot of old and new Democratic voters and get them enthused about their candidate and launch into the general election for governor effectively. … If they think they can skip the primary and have a stunning victory, that’s extremely naive.”

I’ve said what I’ve got to say about turnout and Davis’ performance, so let me say something about the naysayers that are quoted in this story. First, there’s Mark Jones, who you may recall was telling everyone to vote in the Republican primary since the Democratic primary didn’t matter anyway. And then there’s Matt Mackowiak, who as noted is a Republican consultant. That means – and try to stay with me here, because this is complicated – he wants Republican candidates to win. That means he’s probably not the most objective source of information for what Democratic candidates ought to be doing to win. Hard to believe, I know, but that’s my job, to tell you those hard truths. Maybe Davis should have spent a million or two to turn people out in the primary. It’s perfectly reasonable to think that would have been a good strategy. It’s also perfectly reasonable to think that she’d get more bang for her buck saving her money for later and to let local races drive turnout. There will be plenty of time to second guess that decision later. Can we move on now?

San Antonio plastic bag ban update

Here’s an update on the city of San Antonio’s effort to regulate plastic bag usage, which may include a ban. It’s written by San Antonio City Council member Cris Medina, who is the point person for the effort.


Late last year, after multiple conversations with members of the Citizen’s Environmental Advisory Committee (members are appointed by each City Council member and the Mayor), I became aware of the environmental hazards of single-use plastic bags.

For some time, I had seen plastic bags strewn about our parks, caught in trees, and on frequent occasions, I had picked up countless deteriorating plastic bags during community clean-up events. I was well aware of the eyesore that the 335 plastic bags each American uses per year (U.S. International Trade Commission) cause. What I soon came to learn was that single-use plastics are not biodegrading in our landfills. In fact, many of them are making their way into our waterways and wreaking havoc when wildlife ingest shards of bags.

I also learned about the manufacturing process of plastic bags, which requires an incredible amount of energy, often coming from the burning of fossil fuels. Creation, transport, and use of these bags just one time seems wasteful, wouldn’t you agree?


Recycling is an option, but it is not one that people often use. In 2012, the city’s Solid Waste Management Department initiated a pilot project which had two goals: reduce the number of single-use plastic bags sold at the point-of-sale with the following retailers: JC Penny, H-E-B, Walmart, Target and Walgreens; and increase recycling of single-use plastic bags. The department spent nearly $400,000 on a marketing campaign to convey and encourage implementation of these goals. A 30 percent increase in recycling at the collection bins provided by retailers on-site was accomplished, while no change in the number of single-use plastic bags was had at the point-of-sale. These results mirror results in other cities across the United States.

The reality is that the nearly 100 cities across the county have transitioned away from single-use plastic bags, yet those same cities saw very little increase in recycling curbside or otherwise. San Jose, California, found that only four percent of single-use plastic bags are recycled (City of San Jose, California). The moral of the story here is that while recycling is possible, it is an expensive investment and it is rarely used.

Recycling will be part of our transition. In August of this year, the city will contract with a new recycling vendor who has the proper equipment to sort single-use plastic bags from our blue collection bins.

Through proper handling, San Antonio citizens will be able to recycle single-use plastic bags and other plastic bags, like the ones your produce comes in, by balling multiple bags together and placing that combined apparatus into blue recycle bins. This is an exciting option for San Antonio.

The issue was first discussed last year, and came up again in February but was put off till this month. As we know, multiple cities have taken various approaches to dealing with plastic bags in the past couple of years in Texas. I’m not aware of any studies that have been done to gauge the effectiveness of each approach. I feel confident that Houston will deal with this sooner or later, and it would be nice to know more about how it has gone so far in other cities. One question that I haven’t seen answered anywhere and which is of interest to me as a dog owner is, what is the recommended way to deal with cleaning up after one’s dog if plastic bags are no longer widely available? I presume there’s something, but I haven’t come across it and I haven’t got the fortitude to Google for it right now. Anyone have personal experience with this?

Street closings ahead

This ought to be interesting.

Three busy Houston streets will shut down to vehicular traffic on selected Sunday afternoons in an effort to see if car-bound residents will walk, bike and explore each block rather than simply drive through.

The program, called Open Streets, originated in Bogota, Colombia, more than 30 years ago and has been spreading fast across the United States in the past decade. The idea is to close streets to cars and open them to cyclists, skateboarders and pedestrians – anybody using their own brawn to move. So, no horses.

“You can bring your jump rope and you can bring your Hula Hoop,” said Regina Garcia, president of Bike Houston.

The pilot program announced Wednesday will begin April 6, when 2.5 miles of two connected streets, White Oak and Quitman, will be closed to automotive traffic between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. In May, a mile-long stretch of Westheimer in the Montrose area will be closed to vehicles. Two miles of Washington Avenue ending at Market Square Park downtown will be closed in June.

Officials said the project would encourage residents to exercise and explore Houston’s neighborhoods.

“It is a way to acquaint ourselves with what is around those streets in a way we don’t normally experience it going by car,” Mayor Annise Parker said.

In St. Louis, where the street closings have been popular, the city found nearly three-quarters of attendees spent money along the route.


Many businesses pushed for the closings, hoping to generate interest in the neighborhood around them, said Travis Adair, owner of Lucky’s, a bar along the White Oak closure route who worked with the city on the plan.

Though cars will be off-limits in the parking lot of his bar, Adair said he’s planning to have plenty of bike racks and other attractions to draw customers, including possibly a band.

See here for the Mayor’s press release and here for the Sunday Streets HTX webpage. Any time you try to do something that involves the people of Houston traveling by means other than a car, there’s going to be skepticism. I have no idea what to expect from this – I wonder what metrics the city has in mind to determine if this is a success or not – but White Oak is close to where we live, so I’m sure we’ll wander over and check it out. What do you think about this?